The NLH Enterprise Architecture – looking to the future

For a couple of years now I have had a copy of “An Enterprise Architecture for the National Library for Health: Direction of travel and deliverables” sat in my inbox.  At the time I was preparing a report considering HDAS (the NHS in England interface for searching literature databases) and I wanted to remind myself of the content of this dimly remembered document.  Linda Ferguson kindly dug it out (on a site since dead) and it has been sat nagging me ever since.

The version of the EA above dates from 2006.  I confess I failed to grasp the scope of the vision it represented at the time.  The language is by nature technical but the ambition is very clear.  A number of initiatives now under way in the NHS in England could be plucked directly from this document and would certainly be much easier to deliver if we had gone further down some of the paths it suggests.

The document lays out a plan for delivery of NHS Library web based services.  At the core is the need for “a set of interoperable, networked services that conform to appropriate open standards”.  This would be supported by various things such as shared schemas for meta data and a central registry for API specifications.

I want to consider how the implications anticipated at the time have worked out and where things might be going in the future.

There were several implications identified for national services

 

A coherent and integrated user journey is desired. Presentation layers, what the user sees as a web page and how results are presented, will be separate from content and services and owned and built by the NHS.

Procurement will focus on content and the necessary APIs to integrate content into the discovery and current awareness processes. Increasingly, we do not wish to purchase content locked into any single portal.

A core search service will index all NHS content. It too will have a SOA, providing the basis for search pages. It will integrate with related services such as link resolvers

An NHS resolver service will be a key component in the delivery process. The NHS will wish to procure and own a resolver solution as a managed service.

An NHS library– wide Access Management System is being procured. Use of this system will be mandated for information suppliers. It will be SAML compliant.

Much of this has come to pass though perhaps without the core search service.

HDAS has reasonably successfully allowed for changes to the suppliers of content (databases) without massively impacting the experience of searching for the end user.  The varying API offered by suppliers have not fully supported the consistent search experience desired and there have been performance issues.  What has not happened perhaps is the ongoing integration of other services such as document supply and support at the point of need into HDAS.

We have seen the procurement and integration into HDAS of different link resolving solutions.  OpenAthens has been a long standing partner for access management.

Looking to the future work is underway to deliver an NHS England wide discovery solution and how well this maintains control over the web page and presentation of results will be interesting.  This could potentially be the “core search service”?  NHS Evidence already does this job for some categories of materials but stays away from the literature databases that would swamp the materials it aims to present.

A missed opportunity was the investment to create an NHS England wide Library Management System based in one of the Open Source solutions.  A small central team could have administered and developed a tailored approach that would have matched some of the ambititions of the EA.  I suspect the overall cost over the past decade would have been significantly lower and the opportunities for creating a platform for services greater.

There were also implications flagged for local services

local e-content, whether procured or NHS generated can, by adhering to EA principles, be integrated with national content, either within NLH or within other portals.

New services can be built up around this technology. For example, local current awareness and alerting services can be integrated with national services to provide the user with one way of getting knowledge updates

A single NHS library-wide Access Management System provides web Single Sign-on linking library services to their user base and will provide a bridge to NHS SSO services, opening up library service to non-library users.

Generally we have been happily plugging in locally procured content into national systems.  A gap has been around a solution for ebooks and this will need to be addressed in any new discovery layer as this format grows in importance.  The ability to integrate local content will depend on standards and considering these might be an early priority (as fixing them later will be trickier).

Recent revisions to HLISD will hopefully have maintained the commitment to the important location and service information being available via API to build other service offers.  The wide adoption of KnowledgeShare raises questions of how this (or an equivalent) might be integrated into a future national digital service.

In an ideal world we would have single sign on using peoples Trust logins – any additional login (even one as familiar as OpenAthens) is an unwanted barrier so an NHS SSO is the right ultimate target.


So quite a lot progressed and quite a lot left to do.  As the NHS in England moves towards the procurement of a new discovery tool it feels to me more critical than ever that we maintain the drive of the NLH Enterprise Architecture for the delivery of “a set of interoperable, networked services that conform to appropriate open standards”.  What I would like to see more of is the role of the person supporting at the point of need within that networked service.

These are my views based on my involvement with various aspects of the health libraries system at different points.  I am very happy to be corrected on points of accuracy – and challenged on matters of opinion!

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#HLG2016 cutting through the fog

A few thoughts while #HLG2016 remains fresh in the mind.  Hopefully there will be a good number of reflections shared in the coming days (Abi Alayo has been quick off the mark with her thorough posts for the first and second day.  I am likely to be less thorough!

The conference had a packed agenda but it is the window to talk to so many colleagues that really makes it.  This started ahead of time on twitter with the depth of adoption of this channel continuing to grow (NodeXL analysis of patterns of use, language and so on). The journey up offered time for initial conversations and the world was partially set to rights with Ben Skinner on a later than hoped for train from York. One of the topics was around the challenge of liberating the data that we hold and need to use (more on this in another post).

Safely arrived at the Royal there was time to help some guy push his slush puppy cart into an arcade and to buy three pints and half a coke for £7.70 (Seven pounds seventy pence London pub drinkers vidiprinter) down on the harbour side.

The next morning started with the pleasure of finally meeting Michael Cook after years of being in contact online.  Running along the sea front was a great way to open the day and to get a feel for the fog. This was one of at least a couple of semi organised runs by delegates and it would be a nice thing to continue at future events.

The conference venue was the Scarborough Spa which had a slightly faded glamour but met our needs overall (the wifi worked!). The shifted date was less successful with the Higher Education contingent clearly reduced due to student inductions already being underway or looming.

There was a strong Knowledge for Healthcare theme throughout the two days which may have been off putting for some.  This is balanced to some extent by the extent to which the products of KfH workstreams are publicly available and often widely applicable.  The volume and quality of work going on is impressive with tool kits in all directions.  Work on increasing the role of centralised procurement rang some alarm bells for me – we have moved from £2mill spent centrally to £4mill but the view is that some £12mill could be spent this way.  That money is unlikely to be new money!  Efforts to look to the future of staffing are also welcome with another leadership programme and a development path for senior managers on the way.  I suspect there are non NHS health folk on the current leadership programme and I really hope so as it is important to get a wider perspective where possible.

I forget how long it is since the introduction of “Do once and share” but duplication of effort remains stubbornly persistent.  The work on Current Awareness illustrated this clearly with over 700 bulletins under production just from the people who responded to a survey on this. Approaches around consolidating these while establishing best of breed models feels overdue.  The guideline on good bulletin production will be one to watch for.

My own session on metrics drew a larger crowd than I had hoped for with pretty much a full room. It brought home to me the need for additional efforts to explain how the principles we developed for good metrics can be applied. In a similar way to the CAS bulletins I could see the germ of a plan to develop best of breed metrics based around shared templates. There was some confusion over whether this was an additional piece of work or a replacement for national statistics returns.  In essence I hope the principles will be used as part of the national statistics review to inform any changes.  What I hope I expressed strongly during the talk was that the interest in metrics is mostly  the extent to which they can drive useful conversations – with our stakeholders and with each other.  Through out the conference we were reminded of the importance of being active in the boardroom as well as at the bedside. Having something concrete to talk about that responds to the priorities of senior stakeholders must be a good thing. I will make some tweaked slides for the web and blog them in the next few days.

After the rush of presenting we then had a fun conference dinner from which I may have escaped with slightly too much CILIP HLG rock!

HLG Rock(s)

A pair of keynotes kicked us off well on the second day with Nick Poole running through progress at CILIP and recognising the impact of health library and information professionals work. I hope the new model for subscriptions and improving offer will have the desired effect to widen participation and membership. This was followed by a moving talk from Lynn Daniel on the Expert Patient Programme. While I am sure I was not alone in wondering about the evidence base for some of the interventions proposed it was clear that her work has considerable impact on peoples lives with access to information at the heart of it.

The expert work of Judy Wright in supporting research proposals was fascinating and highly relevant to some of the thinking I am doing about search support for my own organisation. This along with a number of discussions I had made we wonder a little as to how up to scratch our skills are in these areas.  While there are some seriously well equipped librarians out there I certainly feel that I know less about systematic review and other advanced searching than I would like.  As we shift to delivering more highly specialist work and automation advances we need to ensure that we can maintain credibility. More thoughts on this to come in another blog post.

Other useful talks were Jo Milton from Cambridge on UX work (experience sharing planned for the future) and Andrew Brown looking at RoI.  The RoI work confirmed how hard this is to do well and the risks associated with starting to move into the realm of putting a price on all things.

HLG committee were keen to hear about ideas for what else we might do. The potential for holding HLG Conference annually was suggested. I wonder whether we might run something like the UKSG one day event which combines a trade fair with a selection of talks? A notable difference is that this is a free event to attend. We could look to make the overall cost lower (no lunch unless a sponsor covers?) to allow this. I would also like to see HLG campaign with members to increase uptake of revalidation. The concept of regular revalidation is understood and undertaken by many of those we work closely with. HLG can lead the way on raising use of this method and normalising it across the profession.

We emerged from the fog as the train whisked us off home. This felt like an important conference and reminded me how much I love working in the health information community. There is no doubt that significant progress is being made across many areas of work. There is also no doubt that financial pressure is going to be intense for most of us. The call to engage with NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans, with the patient information agenda and with making the future we want to be part of has to be heeded.